Alison Firestone Robitaille was born to ride, endowed with horsey genes from her parents, Bertram and Diana Firestone, and driven by her passion for jumping competitions. Her family moved to Upperville in 1991, and the historic Upperville Colt & Horse Show, June 4 – 10, is always meaningful for Alison, but especially so this year. After the birth of her two daughters, she took a five-year break from the international circuit and learned that balance in life is just as important as it is with a horse. Three years ago, she decided to return to international competition.
“When I was pregnant with Ava, I did a lot of teaching and I built up a big client business – I kept my hand in it all the time,” Alison said. “When I was pregnant with Zoe, I remember saying I really miss competing. I didn’t see anyone else at the top of the sport dividing their time between coaching, competing at the top level, and raising young kids. The girls are 9 and 6 now. Their father and I have equal custody. It’s a balancing act to accommodate everyone’s schedule, but we work together to do what’s best for the girls. Not to see my kids every second that I’m home is hard. By pursuing my passion, I’m sure it makes me a better mom when I’m with them.”
In 2015, Alison started planning her comeback campaign with Michelle Grubb. A little over two years ago, she acquired Ace, a gray 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. “He has a good bit of “blood” for a big horse, and he was always nice to ride, but it took time for us to get to know each other,” Alison said. “Now when I think it, he does it. We have a real partnership.”
Alison’s re-entry into the top of the sport took place in May 2017 when she and Ace contributed to the U.S. team’s silver medal in the Nations Cup in Coapexpan, Mexico. Just this April, Paris provided the glorious backdrop for the 2018 Longines FEI World Cup Finals where Alison and Ace finished 14th overall. It was her fifth World Cup Final appearance — her first one in more than 10 years, her last final taking place in Kuala Lumpur in 2006.
“The World Cup Final has always been a big goal for me, so it was really exciting to set that goal and to finish 14th out of 37 in Paris,” Alison said. “I want to go back next year and do it better. Setting goals are inspiring and rewarding, and I’m so glad I got another go to compete at the top.”
There’s a lot to this quiet, reserved woman — she could be the living definition of thoughtful – as a horseperson, as a mother, as a rider-trainer. “I really do enjoy bringing horses along and letting them tell me what they’re ready for,” Alison said. “For most of my competitive career, I’ve been lucky to ride a bunch of different types of horses and bring them along. Fein Cera, who was named best horse with Peter Wylde at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Spain — I bought her at the end of her 5-year-old year and showed her until she was 9 and started winning Grands Prix. Then I sold her to Peter. I got Via Volo when she was 7 and took her up to the Grand Prix level and the Gold Cup qualifier level. Then I sold her to Beezie Madden. Both horses ended up at the Olympics.
“That’s always been a little hard – getting horses to the point where they can win and letting them go,” continued Alison. “But it makes me so proud to have felt how special those horses were and for them to prove that my instincts were correct. I chose to sell Via Volo because the Olympic Trials were coming up and I knew she was a legitimate contender, but I didn’t want to sacrifice precious moments with my daughter Ava – her first steps, first tooth, etc. – to invest my time traveling throughout Europe. I am schooling my daughters now that there are always choices.”
The sky’s the limit for Alison. She also has a huge hunger for competing, but just as her kids are #1, so are her horses. It helps that she has amazing focus — you can see it when she’s riding or making a suggestion to a rider — and she’s got this hunger for competing and there’s that comeback that got off to a great start…
“I’m really excited about the way it’s going and I have a really nice little group of six younger horses that I’m hoping will be good,” Alison said. “It’s a fun job, and they’re amazing. We pick and choose where Ace shows to preserve him. I’m hoping a few of these younger guys will be ready to step up and we’ll see where we go. I love my horses. They’re like part of my family. I want to do what’s really best for them.”
It’s a testimony to Alison’s character and horse care that Ariat has sponsored her for more than two decades. Over the years, she has worked with Prestige Saddles, County Saddles, and Equifit.
The horses have been a lifelong endeavor. She started riding when she was 3 and competing when she was 10. After the Firestones moved to Upperville, she started foxhunting with Piedmont Foxhounds, renowned for jumping really big fences, which advanced her equestrian education. She trained during her teen years with George Morris’s protégée, Katie Prudent. While still a student at Foxcroft, she rode Roco in her first grand prix. A year later in Florida, she qualified, based on her earnings that winter, to compete in the prestigious American Invitational. Her star was on the rise.
In 1997 Alison harvested great success and accolades such as being named Leading Rider in the Samsung Nations Cup World Series. She was also honored as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Female Equestrian Athlete of the Year and the Virginia Horse Shows Association’s Horseperson of the Year. At the 1998 World Equestrian Games in Rome, she was the top-placed U.S. rider. 1999 saw her on the podium with the U.S.’s silver medal team at the Pan American Games. She was the 1st alternate at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. To date, she has won 45 grand prix.
“Where my life is now, I would love to aim back for the World Cup Finals with Ace in 2019,” Alison said. “He’s fantastic indoors. Not that he isn’t good outdoors, but I can pick which qualifiers I want to do, I can make my own schedule and get there on my own merits. I would absolutely love to ride again on a Nations Cup team, but at the age where my kids are right now, it’s difficult to keep up with the demanding schedule of traveling abroad. The competing has to be to be on my terms.
“At the moment, Ava and Zoe are in the thick of school and soccer practice — that doesn’t leave much time for anything else,” she continued. “When they can, they love to come out to the barn. Both of them have ponies and love riding and brushing them. They enjoy being around animals as much as I do, so we really share that. My biggest goal with the girls is to maintain the really close relationship we have with each other now, even with my traveling and competing. My girls are always #1 even if I’m not there.”
As for her horses, well, they’re also #1. Horses and kids. Kids and horses. For Alison, life doesn’t get much bette